About the Department
The Sacred Music Department offers education of the highest quality and broadest scope to Sacred Music majors who aspire to be leaders of the future.
The department is interdenominational and seeks to explore the excellence of various traditions of sacred music. The faculty have wide experience and expertise in such traditions as Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Roman Catholic, the Synagogue and Temple tradition, and others.
The curricula at both undergraduate and graduate levels aim, on the one hand, to explore how familiar tradition can be blended with unfamiliar contemporary creativity in choral, congregational, and instrumental music for worship and, on the other hand, to provide a balanced study of theoretical matters and practical concerns. Technique, repertoire, and performance practice are therefore considered with theology, Biblical and post-Biblical religious history, and the development and practice of liturgy and worship.
Underlying all the offerings of the department is the understanding that sacred music is neither an optional extra nor merely a spiritual entertainment within the service of the church. It is rather an essential part of the liturgy and worship and therefore must have integrity and quality appropriate for its twin functions of carrying the Word of God to us, and our words of praise to God.
Undergirding the sacred music program are the offerings of the other Westminster academic and performance departments, the specialized collections containing sacred music materials in Talbott Library, and the vast network of affiliate churches in the greater New York-Philadelphia metropolitan area in which Westminster students are enabled to gain personal experience of a wide range of sacred music practice.
Sacred Music Lab/Colloquium
These labs provide an opportunity for students to experience a wide variety of denominational traditions and worship styles. In this context students are immersed in extensive congregational, choral, vocal, organ and instrumental works, which comprise the basic corpus of sacred repertoire. New trends in theology, hymnody and composition are also explored through practical and creative liturgies.
All full-time freshman and sophomore Sacred Music majors are expected to enroll in and meet the requirements for SM511 (Sacred Music Lab) to a total of four semesters. All full-time junior and senior Sacred Music majors are expected to enroll in and meet the requirements for SM531 (Colloquium in Sacred Music) to a total of four semesters. All full-time graduate Sacred Music majors are expected to enroll in and meet the requirements for SM511 (Sacred Music Lab) to a total of two semesters. Grading is "P" (satisfactory) or "U" (unsatisfactory).
The Westminster handbell program was instituted in 1979 to fill the need to train church musicians in the art of handbell ringing. It became the first curriculum of handbell ringing in an institution of higher learning. Concert Handbell Choir I, open to students by audition, goes on tour annually, has appeared on national television, and has five recordings to its credit.
The Westminster Jubilee Singers is an auditioned ensemble dedicated to the performance of repertoire from the rich body of sacred music from the African-American tradition. Jubilee Singers performs regularly on- and off-campus.
Church Field Education
All undergraduate Sacred Music majors are placed in local churches during the junior year as part of the requirement for church field education. The placement decision is made at the end of the sophomore year to permit planning over the summer before employment begins in the fall. Church field education gives the opportunity for students to exercise their skills in a church setting under faculty supervision and guidance.
Princeton Theological Seminary
A reciprocal arrangement with Princeton Theological Seminary allows Westminster graduate students to take certain courses offered by the Seminary. Enrollment in such courses is arranged after consultation with Sacred Music faculty. Speer Library at the Seminary, housing one of the nation’s most important theological collections, is another invaluable resource for Westminster students.